One of the most common frustrations we hear from anyone pursuing his/her first Product Management job is: “I don’t know what I don’t know!” If this is you, you’re not alone! It’s not as straightforward as wanting to be a lawyer and knowing you need to study law. Project Management is a beautifully weird blend of hard skills like data analytics and soft skills like influence and communication.
Rather than realizing that you need to learn a particular skill, process or tool after the interviewer or worse, on your first day of the job, here are 5 of the most common Product Management questions (and answers) that you might not have thought to ask.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a plan put together by the Product Manager that prioritize and estimates release dates for the product’s features. The roadmap becomes your bird’s eye view on how the product will evolve and when features will be released over a timeline of months and years.
While the roadmap is mostly the Product Manager’s baby, it helps individual teams to set the deadlines for their tasks. Externally, it’s a useful tool for communicating the timeline to stakeholders and management. To put it simply, it’s a plan for the life of a product.
What types of tools do product managers use?
These are the 3 most-used Product Management tools:
- Feature and Bug Tracking (ex: JIRA, Pivotal Tracker, FogBugz)
- Roadmap Planning (ex: ProductPlan, OmniPlan)
- Wireframing (ex: Balsamiq, Mockingbird, Pencil, Axure)
You may also need to find which software you prefer for team management and general communication. If you’re joining an established team or product, these might already have been decided so it’s good to have a little experience in the most popular tools, like Slack, Monday, Trello and GSuite.
How technical do you need to be?
The answer to this one is that it depends on the company. The good news is that there’s really a healthy mix of job opportunities for highly technical non-technical Product Managers. While it doesn’t hurt to be a bit technical, it’s not a requirement. In fact, a highly technical Product Manager can be less effective than a non-technical one (you’ll learn why below).
The #1 goal for a Product Manager should be to understand the customer/user and their needs, and that requires zero technical skills. However, if you have a little coding knowledge, it’ll be easier for your engineers to communicate with you, and you’ll also have a better idea of what questions to ask.
It really depends on what kind of job you want, and which products you want to work on. Some companies require Computer Science bachelors degrees for their Product Management roles, and some don’t. Whatever the situation, it’s always good to at least be able to talk about tech when working with digital products.
Luckily, most people drawn to Product Management have a natural curiosity, with makes learning a little bit of code that much easier. It can be as simple as downloading an app and learning in your spare time.
How do I manage a team that is more technical than me?
One of the most important lessons for a Product Manager that many learn early on, is that the job as a PM is to know and explain “what are we building” and it’s the job of the developers to come up with “how we will build it”.
As a PM, you will get a lot of exposure to the actual users and customers of the product and you will know vastly more about their needs than the developers. This will be your biggest and most valuable contribution. There’s no one else in the company that will know more about what to build than the PM.
So rather than micromanaging the team, help guide them to “what we are building” and then let them decide how it’s built.
Is a Product Manager a leader?
Yes and no. You might hear Product Managers be called The CEO of a product, but this doesn’t quite reflect reality. The CEO of a product is, funnily enough, the CEO of the company building it. The PM is more like the navigator of a ship, not above everyone else but amongst them and guiding the journey.
So in a way, yes you’ll need the qualities of a leader as you will be leading a product through its journey. But no one will be building statues of you any time soon. Sorry. In a Product Management interview, it’s better to put more emphasis on how well you work with a team rather than how well you’re able to run a team.